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#LetThemTeach: How the crisis hits special schools

MP backs Tes' #LetThemTeach campaign and raises case in Parliament of special school unable to recruit Canadian teacher

#LetThemTeach_editorial

MP backs Tes' #LetThemTeach campaign and raises case in Parliament of special school unable to recruit Canadian teacher

A special school in London has been unable to fill a vacancy since the start of the year because it cannot obtain a visa for a Canadian teacher, Parliament has heard.

Siobhain McDonagh, the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, who raised the case in Parliament, said she was backing the Tes #LetThemTeach campaign, which aims to get the whole teaching profession added to the "shortage occupation list", which gives higher priority for visas.

On Monday, during Home Office Questions in the House of Commons, Ms McDonagh said: "Perseid School, in my constituency, is an outstanding special-needs school for those with severe learning difficulties, but it is hard for it to recruit special needs teachers because they were removed from the shortage occupation list in 2013.

"It has spent thousands trying to get a teacher from Canada. When will special needs teachers be returned to the list?"

Immigration minister Caroline Nokes replied: "We constantly keep the shortage occupation list under review, and work closely with the Migration Advisory Committee to ensure that the appropriate occupations are indeed on that list."

Speaking to Tes, Ms McDonagh said she backed the #LetThemTeach campaign for all teachers to be added to the shortage occupation list. 

She said she asked the question in Parliament after the headteacher of Perseid School, Tina Harvey, brought the issue to her attention.

Ms McDonagh told Tes: "This was a problem that [the head] saw getting worse, because she’s got more vacancies next year that she’s been unable to fill."

Ms McDonagh said the fact that special needs teachers were unable to qualify for visas because of salary reasons "really bothers me".

"Many of these children have to be hoisted in and out of their chairs, require a lot of medical support, are very complex and demanding. The fact that people do this work is brilliant and a great credit to them.

“If you can’t put a teacher in front of a classroom, what happens to those children? This is not a school where you can – I mean no insult to people who work as supply teachers – but put any supply teacher. 

"These are specific and longstanding skills that people need to have developed."

Recruitment 'has definitely got worse'

Ms Harvey told Tes that recruitment in the special sector had always been "really challenging" but the situation had "definitely worsened" in the last year.

"We have found the pool of appointable people to be so small, [the situation] is now acute," she said.

The fact that her school is willing to spend money sponsoring a visa showed the scale of the recruitment challenge. "If a state school with a current budget difficulty is prepared to pay that visa fee, you know there's a problem," she added.

Ms Harvey said the inability of teachers to get visas in the special sector was particularly serious because teachers from America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have "the right kind of training for us".

Perseid first interviewed the Canadian teacher – who was already living in the UK – in November 2017, and appointed her to a role which was due to start in January 2018.

She needs a visa to take up the job, but the school's applications keep getting rejected. 

"We have been doing this since December last year and every single month she has not made it through," Ms Harvey said. "That's more than six months and we're still trying."

Ms Harvey said this had negatively impacted on her pupils. "The children have not had the continuity of a good quality teacher that we could have had in place for them... that has really disadvantaged those pupils and our school."

She also said the failed visa applications had cost the school in "admin time" and "leadership time" and that the "toll on the institution" had been "significant". 

"It is stressful having vacancies when you know those children need a very special sort of person," she added.

Tes has created a parliamentary petition to stop non-EU international teachers from being turned away from Britain.

If the petition hits 10,000 signatures, the government is obliged to formally respond to it. If it hits 100,000 signatures, the issue will be considered for a debate in Parliament.

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